What You Should Know Before Trying New Sleeping Pill Belsomra

Since the early 1990s, the most commonly prescribed sleeping pills have followed a formula that works by increasing levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that slows down brain activity.

But a new insomnia treatment, Belsomra (suvorexant), is the first of its kind to do the opposite: Rather than increasing a neurotransmitter that slows brain activity, it targets the neurotransmitter Orexin, which promotes wakefulness, by decreasing it.

By turning off the brain’s “awake” switch, Belsomra promotes sleep. And it’s hugely popular, thanks in no small part to a major advertising push, which includes print ads, TV commercials featuring fuzzy creatures, online content (whyamisoawake.com) and an app called Sleep Guru.

Doctors were writing an average of 4,000 prescriptions each week, just a month after Belsomra, which is manufactured by Merck, was approved by the FDA last August.

Sales of the drug have been so successful that British consulting firm GlobalData predicts Belsomra will be the highest-selling insomnia medication within the next eight years. A considerable achievement given that more than 42 million sleep aid prescriptions were filled out in the U.S. alone last year.

But some sleep experts are worried that the drug’s popularity is being driven by hype rather than real need. Clinical testing has shown that this new drug is no more effective than existing drugs, like Lunesta and Ambien. They’ve both been shown to be less effective (and potentially more costly) than cognitive behavioral therapy. This form of psychotherapy works to alleviate stress and anxiety, which can contribute to people finding it difficult to sleep at night.

As one cause of insomnia is wakefulness neurotransmitters being overactive at night, blocking these neurotransmitters should theoretically help reduce insomnia, according to Dr. Gregg Jacobs, an insomnia specialist at the —> Read More